This article is reprinted from the October 24, 2018, of the USGA Green Section Record. Copyright United States Golf Association. All rights reserved.
Fall is a great season for golf. The heat of summer has passed, and many courses are enjoying some of their best playing conditions of the year. Fall is also a time of transition when many important changes happen on golf courses. Here are five things every golfer should know about fall course conditions:
1. Frost delays are making a comeback.
Frost delays are a common part of fall golf throughout the U.S. While these delays can be frustrating, it is important not to walk or drive on frost-covered grass to avoid causing damage that may not heal until next spring. Remember, there may be frost at the course even if there is none on your grass at home. If you are concerned about a possible delay, call the golf shop to check on conditions before heading out the door.
2. Grass may be a little taller.
At many golf courses, superintendents slightly raise mowing heights during fall to help grass generate and store energy for winter. Leaves are like solar panels, so more surface area means more energy for the plant. The extra leaf surface also helps to maintain good playability into the late fall and winter as turf growth slows or stops.
Cleaning up leaves and other tree debris is a major undertaking at many golf courses each fall. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)
3. Leaf cleanup is underway.
Leaves are falling and maintenance staffs are working hard to keep playing surfaces clear. Unfortunately, it can be tough to keep up when tens of thousands of leaves may fall from a single tree. Try to be understanding if you encounter tree debris on a putting green or have difficulty finding a ball hidden under some leaves. Before your round, check to see if a local rule is in place that allows for a free drop if your ball is lost amongst fallen leaves.
4. Traffic control is increasingly important.
Managing traffic becomes especially important in the fall because grass is growing slower and has less ability to recover from damage. Don’t be surprised if a few more ropes or traffic signs appear on the courses you play; they will help maintain good playing conditions until grass starts growing at full speed in the spring.
5. Planting, painting or patience?
In areas where golf is played through the winter, some courses overseed certain playing surfaces with grasses that continue to grow during cool weather. Other facilities may use turf colorants instead of overseeding to reduce disruption, conserve resources and improve year-round playability. Some courses choose to do neither and simply accept what the grass naturally offers until spring arrives. The best approach depends on how busy a course is during fall and winter and the playability and aesthetics desired by golfers.
Using turf colorants instead of overseeding can provide the desired aesthetics with less disruption and cost. (USGA/Chris Keane)
The seasonal changes we experience on the golf course are part of what makes golf fun and challenging. To learn more about how course maintenance changes with the seasons, visit the Course Care section of USGA.org.
Bonus Item - Playing With Preferred Lies: As fall progresses, golf courses may choose to implement a Local Rule allowing for preferred lies, or, as it is commonly called, "lift, clean and place." When this Local Rule is in effect, does your score count for Handicap purposes? The short answer- yes! Click here to learn more about how this works, and possible exceptions.